I’ve often said that if I had a choice, fettuccine alfredo would make an appearance at my last meal. When made with good quality butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano, the flavor is other-worldly, the texture smooth and luxurious.
But I had many disappointments on the path to the right recipe.
My first attempt involved a recipe by an Italian-American chef on a US cooking network. That particular recipe included cream and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Cream and acid. I raised an eyebrow but pushed forward, determined to whisk through the curdling to a fresher-tasting fettuccine alfredo.
I took one bite and proceeded to dump my dinner in the trash. (Thank goodness in those days I still used a less expensive Parmesan, or I would have cried all the way to bank.) If I had planned on making pasta swimming in a lemon-cream sauce, I would have been happy. But to get that dish when you’re expecting fettuccine alfredo was a travesty.
So I tried again, this time without the lemon. The flavor was better, but the pasta seemed to be swimming in cream more than anything. I sold that cookbook and continued my search.
For years after, I simply followed the recipe for alfredo sauce that was published in my very first cookbook: Betty Crocker. It was a basic recipe, but it worked well when I added cooked fettuccine the moment I finished making the sauce. I’d always garnish it with a little grated nutmeg and some extra cheese. Over time, the recipe became my own as I adjusted it to suit my tastes.
It was a dish I could never eat in public, and probably not in front of my parents, either. Too many sighs, eyes at half-mast, perhaps a little groan here or there. For all I know, it was worse than that, but I was too busy enjoying my food to care much.
Then I found out the original dish used only butter, not a combination of butter and cream. I had to try it. I didn’t do anything fancy, just pretty much swapped out the heavy cream I used for additional butter. I must confess, however, that as a lover of cheese, I tend to over-garnish my finished dish. But I refuse to apologize – who wouldn’t want more Parmigiano-Reggiano?
Because this recipe has so few ingredients, it’s one that I only make when I can afford the best ingredients, even if it means saving for awhile.
16 ounces (450 grams) fettuccine
1/2 pound (227 grams) unsalted butter
2 cups (150 grams) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for garnish
salt and pepper
freshly grated nutmeg for garnish
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon (15 grams) salt, then add the fettuccine and cook according to package directions (or until al dente). Reserve 1 cup (235 mL) cooking water, then drain.
Meanwhile, melt half the butter and transfer to a large serving dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup (40 grams) cheese. Slice the remaining butter into thin pats and set aside.
Transfer cooked pasta to buttered platter. Top with pats of butter and remaining cheese. Toss with tongs or large fork and spoon to thoroughly combine pasta with cheese and butter. Add pasta water as needed to make a sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with additional cheese and freshly grated nutmeg, if desired.